Jim Henson’s Dharma Initiative Babies

Even creepier than dogs playing pokerYou’d have to be pretty cynical, or have already given up on the series altogether, not to think that this week’s episode of “Lost” was pretty damn cool. The guys behind the show have admitted to being big fans of Stephen King, which probably explains why this couldn’t have been a better TV adaptation of a Stephen King story unless it’d actually been based on a Stephen King story.

Jacob’s cabin was hella creepy, the kind of potential for surreal scares the show has been hinting at ever since the pilot episode. (But rarely delivering on). I could tell that this season has made me gunshy — when Ben was standing at the door and saying, “once you go through here, you can never go back,” I knew the ending credits were about to start. But hey, we were only 40 minutes into the show! They actually set something up and delivered on it!

More than that, though, is the fact that they’re finally showing signs they understand the balance between creeps and revelations you have to maintain to live up to the potential of the series. It feels less like a lot of hand-waving and “Ooh, look, isn’t that spooky?!? Really cool stuff is coming up later, we promise!” and more like they’ve finally got the balls to put their cards on the table and start coming to conclusions.

Of course, despite everything we were shown, there wasn’t actually a lot of brand-new stuff revealed tonight. Most of it just confirmed what we’d already seen or already suspected. The trick is in the presentation; seeing it from a different perspective made everything seem new and more significant. It’s easy to assume that Ben’s visions of his mother are from the same source as Eko’s visions of his brother (or Jack’s visions of his dad, and Kate’s horse). We finally get some confirmation that the Dharma Initiative is a different group than “the Others,” and we see what form the fight between them took. The whole business with the van and Roger Workman was too pat and contrived, but at least they snipped off another loose end.

Which hints at something clever, but frustrating, about what they did with this episode — by repeating some of the stuff that we already knew, they’re saying that these are the questions they want you to be thinking about. They’ve built up a ton of dangling plot threads over the years, and I suspect they’ve realized it’s going to be impossible to tie up every single detail the internets have speculated about. So they’re repeating the questions they have answers to, and telling us to just forget about the rest. The episode is called “The Man Behind the Curtain,” after all.

There were only two big new things in the episode: meeting Jacob, and meeting Nestor Carbonell’s character 40 years ago. (The cliffhanger was new too, of course, and I thought it was pretty well done). Again, the trick was in the presentation. The scene in the cabin was given a big build-up and made the focus, and it paid off.

The other meeting was just as significant for the questions it raised — obviously, why hasn’t he aged, but also, why isn’t he the leader since he’s been on the island for longer — but was treated a lot more casually. To me, that’s the surest sign the show’s getting back on track, when you can have a conversation that’s significant, but it doesn’t spend the entire time giving you music cues letting you know that it’s significant. It’s a sign that they’re confident they have enough story to tell, and they’re not forced to drag out every new minor plot element to make it last an entire hour.

And of course, the castaways are talking to each other again, for whatever good it does. Having them share what they know only solves half the problem; they’ve got to actually do something about it. And I tell you that Jack and Juliet better have one hell of a master plan cooking to warrant all the nonsense they’ve been doing for the past four episodes. The only time you see a couple of people being more annoyingly coy and smugly withholding information is when you listen to the “Lost” podcasts with the exec producers.

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